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Thanks to the Web, the Scorekeeping on the Super Bowl Has Just Begun

The New York Times: February 6, 2006


FOR the teams that play in the Super Bowl, the day after the game is reserved for planning victory parties or promising, "Wait till next year." For Madison Avenue, the day after has become D-Day, given over to discussing and debating the myriad data that become available about the response to the commercials from the game.

And while the news was good for some Super Bowl advertisers like Anheuser-Busch and Nationwide Financial, it was unusually bad for the Masterfoods division of Mars. Complaints about its Super Bowl commercial for Snickers candy - showing two men committing violence against themselves after they accidentally kiss - led the company to decide late yesterday that it would withdraw the spot.

Masterfoods, which received complaints from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign that the commercial was homophobic, also took down related material on a special Web site (

The Snickers commercial offers a cautionary tale about the echo chamber Super Bowl advertising has become. Years ago, Super Bowl spots pretty much disappeared after the one or two times they were shown during the broadcast. Today, they have afterlives because they are being made available on dozens of Web sites, written about on blogs, forwarded to friends as video clips and even scrutinized for the brain-wave patterns they generate in viewers.

"The opportunity to amplify the value of your commercial beyond game day is invaluable," said Joshua Stylman, managing partner at Reprise Media, a research company that tracks how advertisers use search-engine marketing on Web sites like Google and Yahoo to complement their TV campaigns.

As of yesterday afternoon, visitors to a special AOL Web site devoted to the Super Bowl spots streamed them more than 15 million times. There have also been more than 1.6 million unique visitors to since Sunday to view the commercials there.

Figures from Akamai Technologies, which is tracking Web site traffic for about two-thirds of the marketers that bought spots during Super Bowl XLI, showed that visitors rose steadily from Sunday through yesterday - meaning that the commercials were the start of the selling process rather than the climax.

Traffic yesterday averaged close to 300,000 visitors a minute, according to Akamai, almost twice the average of 160,000 a minute who came to the Web sites during the game.

"In the old days, you had to put extra sizzle into your commercial to get people to notice it, such as elaborate production values or a celebrity spokesperson," said Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer at Cymfony, a company in Watertown, Mass., that specializes in brand monitoring.

"Now, you have to put all this other stuff around your commercial to make it the kind of spot consumers want to talk about," Mr. Nail said.

Among those tactics are putting up microsites, dedicated Web sites different from brands' general sites, like, which was separate from; uploading deleted scenes, production clips or other material to video-sharing Web sites like; and offering consumers ring tones, screen savers or MP3 audio files related to the commercials.

The three advertisers whose Super Bowl spots are being talked about the most, according to preliminary data from Cymfony, are Anheuser-Busch, the Doritos brand of snack chips sold by Frito-Lay and Nationwide Financial. All three surrounded and supplemented their Super Bowl commercials with elaborate Web-based campaigns.

All three also pushed the boundaries of Super Bowl advertising by not keeping the contents of their commercials secret before the game, long a traditional tactic to build interest. For example, Nationwide posted its entire spot, featuring the rapper Kevin Federline, on its Web site (, six days before Super Bowl XLI was played.

"The Web is all about diffusion of information, where nothing is a secret," said Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a unit of the Nielsen Company that measures the buzz, or talk value, of ads. "You could say the Super Bowl has caught up with the Web."

"The name of the game next year," Mr. Blackshaw predicted, will be "priming the attention, not making consumers wait for the 'magic door' to open."

As a result, he said, there could be more contests like the Crash the Super Bowl promotion sponsored by Frito-Lay, part of PepsiCo, which asked consumers to create a Doritos spot for the game and asked the public to select a winner from among five finalist spots.

The vote was so close, said a spokesman for Frito-Lay, Jared Dougherty, that just before the game began the company decided to run two spots rather than one. The runner-up's commercial, called "Check Out Girl," was added to the lineup along with the winner's spot, called "Live the Flavor."

The gamble seemed to have paid off: Not only did the Doritos spots finish high in the Cymfony survey, they came in fifth in the Nielsen BuzzMetrics survey of online conversations about Super Bowl ads, behind Anheuser-Busch, Nationwide, Snickers and FedEx.

Both Doritos spots also finished among the 10 most-viewed moments of the game in households that used TiVo digital video recorders to watch the Super Bowl. "Live the Flavor" - created by Dale Backus and Wes Phillips of Cary, N.C. - was fifth and "Check Out Girl" - created by Kristin Dehnert of Pacific Palisades, Calif. - was eighth.

"My observation is that it's a high-risk strategy" to ask consumers to create commercials for so high-profile a venue as the Super Bowl, said Todd Jeunger, vice president and general manager for audience research and measurement at TiVo.

"I was a little surprised it could work so well," he added.

The most-watched moment in the game in TiVo households was a humorous Bud Light commercial about immigrants featuring the comedian Carlos Mencia, by LatinWorks. In second place was a Bud Light commercial by DDB Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, in which a game of rock, paper, scissors turned violent. That spot was among more than a dozen that were centered on cartoon-style violence or slapstick shtick.

"It looked like they pushed to get attention by jolting people," said Joshua Freedman, a co-founder of FKF Applied Research, which uses brain images to measure reactions to commercials.

A study from FKF showed that the many Super Bowl commercials with violent imagery generated reactions in regions of the brain associated with anxiety, Mr. Freedman said, including the amygdala, which he characterized as the "threat detector," and as a result they generated "no connection, engagement or appeal" with viewers.

By comparison, only a few spots fired the brain regions associated with positive emotions, Mr. Freedman said, which he termed unusual in that advertisers typically seek to stimulate responses in those areas.

"They pushed too hard; there was not enough humanity in the ads," said Mr. Freedman, who is also a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Among the positive commercials, Mr. Freedman listed the "Live the Flavor" commercial for Doritos and a light-hearted spot by Wieden & Kennedy for Coca-Cola Classic, sold by the Coca-Cola Company, which spoofed violent video games.

Of course, not all buzz is good buzz. The commercial for Snickers - created by TBWA/Chiat/Day, part of the TBWA Worldwide division of Omnicom - drew intense criticism as well as some praise.

In addition to complaining that the Snickers commercial itself was homophobic, organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign, also complained about video clips that went up after the game on the special Web site, which showed the two men committing additional violent acts against themselves and each other. There were also interviews with members of the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts in which they offered disgusted reactions to the accidental kiss.

"As with all of our Snickers advertising, our goal was to capture the attention of our core Snickers consumer, primarily 18-to-24-year-old adult males," said a spokeswoman for Masterfoods, Alice Nathanson. "Feedback from our target consumers has been positive, and many media and Web site commentators on this year's Super Bowl lineup ranked the commercial among this year's best."

"We know that humor is highly subjective and we understand that some consumers have found the commercial offensive," Ms. Nathanson said, adding: "Clearly that was not our intent. We do not plan to continue the ad on television or on our Web site."

It is unusual but not unprecedented for an expensive, high-visibility Super Bowl spot to be withdrawn after a single showing. In 1997, a Super Bowl commercial for Holiday Inn was taken off the air after widespread negative reactions.

The spot, by the agency now called Fallon Worldwide, likened the chainwide renovations of Holiday Inn hotels to the operation that turned "Bob" into the sexiest woman at a class reunion. The complaints were centered on the final shot, which showed a male classmate responding to the new Bob with a horrified grimace.
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